'Extreme’ US anti-abortion group ramps up lobbying in Westminster

'Extreme’ US anti-abortion group ramps up lobbying in Westminster

anti-abortion group , Abortion, Reproductive rights, US politics, England, Wales, Far right, Roe v Wade, News,

The UK branch of the Alliance Defending Freedom has significantly increased its lobbying efforts and established connections with influential MPs.

A conservative Christian lobbying organization advocating for a ban on abortion has strengthened its ties with an advisor to the Prime Minister and is actively shaping policy briefs for lawmakers.

The UK arm of the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has more than doubled its expenditure since 2020 and secured a stakeholder position in a parliamentary group focused on religious freedoms, providing it with direct access to Members of Parliament.

The ADF's intensified efforts to expand its influence in the UK come to light amidst a surge in activity within the broader anti-abortion movement.

With a landmark abortion vote scheduled for later this spring, where MPs will decide on a legislation to eliminate the criminal offense associated with terminating pregnancies in England and Wales, several anti-abortion advocacy groups have bolstered their teams, intensified advertising campaigns, and orchestrated mass letter-writing initiatives targeting MPs.

These revelations have prompted calls for increased transparency and accountability regarding the funding and lobbying activities of these groups. The ADF, in particular, holds significant sway within the US Christian right and is part of a global network of staunch evangelical organizations that played a pivotal role in the repeal of Roe v Wade – the landmark Supreme Court ruling granting women the constitutional right to abortion, which was overturned in 2022.

The group, which also advocates for criminalizing sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ+ adults and financially supports fringe groups in the US opposing gay rights, transgender rights, and abortion rights, has faced criticism over its lack of funding transparency due to its use of donor-advised funds – a loophole in US charity law allowing individuals to donate anonymously.

Recent financial reports from its UK entity, ADF International UK, indicate that it spent nearly £1 million in the year ending June 2023, up from £392,556 in 2020. Its income nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023, from £553,823 to £1,068,552.

ADF International UK, which has publicly campaigned against decriminalizing abortion, has actively sought to cultivate closer relationships with MPs. Its latest financial reports highlight a key focus on engaging with "significant decision-makers" and providing "briefing materials and legal analysis" to several MPs ahead of a vote on implementing buffer zones to prevent anti-abortion activities outside abortion clinics.

In September 2023, the group spent £1,737.92 to fly the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs, Fiona Bruce MP, covering her hotel expenses and travel to attend an unspecified conference. Last month, Bruce – who reports directly to Rishi Sunak – participated in an event sponsored by ADF International on religious freedom, speaking remotely alongside two members of the organization.

Despite inquiries, Number 10 did not provide responses regarding the connections between the ADF and Bruce, who disclosed the donations in the MPs register of interests and has previously voted against legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Calls and emails to her office remained unanswered as of late last week.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, noted that the ADF had significantly increased its spending in the UK and Europe in recent years and criticized the lack of transparency surrounding its funding sources. She raised concerns about its collaboration with MPs, questioning why politicians would openly align themselves with an organization promoting a contentious agenda.

Rose Whiffen, senior research officer at Transparency International UK, raised questions about potential conflicts of interest stemming from Bruce's acceptance of donations and suggested that her association with the ADF could lend credibility to the group in the UK.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, expressed concerns over the UK's envoy on religious freedoms accepting donations from organizations leveraging religious liberty to infringe upon others' human rights. He warned of the increasing investments from the Christian nationalist movement in the UK and emphasized the threat posed to human rights and freedoms.

In response, ADF International UK reaffirmed its commitment to protecting "liberties dear to the British people," including free speech and freedom of religion, and asserted that its stance on abortion aimed to "protect the lives of both mother and baby in every pregnancy." The organization emphasized that, like many UK charities on both sides of the abortion debate, it received funds from various countries, and dismissed claims of funding transparency issues as baseless, stating that it complied with all charity regulations. The organization did not comment on its connection to the PM's special envoy.

Jonathan Lord, co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers and a consultant gynecologist, expressed concern over the increasing influence of extreme American groups in the UK, particularly given their aggressive lobbying tactics following the US Supreme Court's decisions limiting abortion rights. He emphasized the need for vigilance against threats to reproductive rights and freedoms, including fertility treatment, contraception, and abortion access.

Other anti-abortion groups have similarly intensified their activities in the UK in recent months. Right to Life, a prominent UK anti-abortion charity, has launched a lobbying campaign urging constituents to write to their MPs advocating for stricter abortion laws, while significantly increasing its spending on Facebook ads. The charity, whose overall expenditure has risen substantially in recent years, also serves as the secretariat to the Pro-Life All-Party Parliamentary Group and is actively seeking to strengthen its relationships with parliamentarians.

The Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK, another anti-abortion group known for its controversial billboard campaigns, has expanded its staff size and remains actively engaged in public debates surrounding its funding, growth, and activities.

MPs are set to vote in the coming weeks on proposed changes to abortion laws in England and Wales, aiming to decriminalize abortion – a move already implemented in Northern Ireland, Australia, France, and New Zealand. Under current legislation dating back to the Victorian era, self-induced abortion remains a criminal offense, with exceptions outlined in the 1967 Abortion Act permitting abortions when deemed necessary for the physical or mental health of the woman by two doctors. However, the outdated law continues to be used to prosecute and incarcerate women for terminating pregnancies without medical approval or after the 24-week gestation limit.

The proposed decriminalization bill, championed by Labour MP Diana Johnson, enjoys cross-party support and is expected to pass. Nevertheless, some within the Labour party have expressed concerns that it could fuel further anti-abortion activism on related issues, such as remote access to abortion services introduced during the pandemic.

A government spokesperson acknowledged the sensitivity of the abortion issue and emphasized that MPs would have a free vote on the proposed legislation, as is customary. They reiterated that any changes to abortion laws would be a matter of conscience for individual MPs rather than government policy.

News Agencies

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